Baseball and Chew: A changing relationship

April 8, 2014

The history of tobacco in our country is quite interesting—especially the connection between baseball and chewing tobacco.

Our relationship with tobacco began when Native Americans introduced it to European settlers. It was readily available, easy to grow, and hailed for its medicinal qualities. As a result, tobacco quickly became an economic staple in the colonies.

By the early 20th century, smokeless tobacco , also referred to chew or dip, was the most popular choice of tobacco users. When machinery made cigarette production faster and more affordable, many tobacco users switched to smoking.

Major League Baseball (MLB) players had concerns about the health risks of smoking. The lure of smokeless tobacco was based on an assumption that it was safer than cigarettes , so many players turned to chew to get their nicotine fix.

Chew played many roles for major leaguers in the early years by helping in-fielders fight dry-mouth in dusty conditions and providing a sticky substance when spit into gloves which helped them catch the ball.

Before the dangers of smokeless tobacco were truly known, many famous players died from tobacco-related illnesses. Babe Ruth died of throat cancer and Yogi Berra was a victim of mouth cancer.

In 1993, MLB intervened by prohibiting players and coaches from using tobacco during games, on the field, or in the dugout. Some players took a stance against it. Former Mariner shortstop Alex Rodriguez made a public service announcement against the use of chewing tobacco in 1996. By 2011, MLB banned its use during pre- and post-game interviews.

Today many baseball players understand the health risks and realize there’s nothing cool about chewing. People who chew are more likely to develop cancers of the tongue, lip, cheek and throat . Its use also leads to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and mouth sores that can become cancerous.

If you dip or chew, you can find more information on the dangers of tobacco use and get help quitting here.